Ten Tips for Comparing Health Care Policies

Australians already know that health coverage can provide security for individuals and families when a medical need arises. Many, however, do not know how to find the best value when comparing health insurance policies.

Below are 10 tips everyone should read before shopping for private health coverage.

1. Choose coverage that concentrates on your specific health needs, or potential health needs.

The first thing you should do before comparing your health plan options is determine which policy features best fit your needs. A 30-year-old accountant, for instance, is going to need very different coverage than a 55year-old pro golfer, or a 75-year-old retired veterinarian. By understanding the health needs that most often correspond to people in your age and activity level group – your life stage – you can save money by purchasing only the coverage you need and avoid unnecessary services that aren’t relevant. For instance, a young family with two small children isn’t going to need coverage for joint replacement or cataract surgery. A 60-year-old school teacher isn’t going to need pregnancy and birth control-related services.

Whether it’s high level comprehensive care you’re after, or the least expensive option to exempt you from the Medical Levy Surcharge while providing basic care coverage, always make sure you’re comparing health insurance policies with only those services that make sense for you and your family.

2. Consider options such as Excess or Co-payment to reduce your premium costs.

When you agree to pay for a specified out-of-pocket amount in the event you are hospitalized, you sign an Excess or Co-payment option that will reduce your health insurance premium.

If you choose the Excess option, you agree to pay a predetermined, specific amount when you go to hospital, no matter how long your stay lasts. With a Co-payment option, you agree to pay a daily sum up to a pre-agreed amount. For example, if Joanne has an Excess of $250 on her medical coverage policy and is admitted to hospital, regardless of how long her stay turns out to be, she will pay $250 of the final bill. If Andrew has signed a $75×4 Co-payment with his provider, he will pay $75 per day for just the first the first four days of his hospitalization.

For younger individuals who are healthy and fit with no reason to expect to land in hospital any time soon, either of these options are great ways to reduce the monthly cost of your medical insurance premiums.
Keep in mind that different private insurers have their own rules when it comes to Excess and Co-payments, including how many payments you will need to make annually on either option. It is important to read the policy thoroughly and ask questions in advance in order to have a clear understanding of what you are paying for, and what you can expect coverage-wise in the event that you are hospitalized. Also, make sure you choose an Excess option greater than $500 if you’re purchasing an individual policy, or $1,000 for family coverage, in order to be exempted from the Medicare Levy Surcharge. 3. Pay your health insurance premium in advance before the cost increases.

Each year insurance providers increase their premiums by approximately five percent sometime around the first of April, a practice approved by the Minister of Health. By instituting these annual increases, your health insurance provider retains the ability to fulfill their obligations to policyholders despite increasing medical costs.

Most private medical policy providers allow policy holders to pay for one year’s premium in advance, which locks them into the previous year’s rate for an additional 12 months – a great way to save money. In order to take advantage of the savings offered, most insurers require payment in full be made within the first quarter of the year, between January and March.

4. Lock in to low cost health insurance at an early age.

The most obvious advantage any Australian can take when it comes to saving money on your insurance premiums is to buy in early to the least expensive rate available. And by early, we mean before age 31. Everyone who is eligible for Medicare will receive at least a 30 percent rebate from the government on the price of their health care premium, no matter what age you are. However, by purchasing hospital coverage before the July first following your 31st birthday, you can be ensured the lowest premium rate available.

After age 31, your health insurance rate is subjected to a two percent penalty rate increase for every year after age 30 that you did not have health insurance. Therefore, if you wait to purchase private health coverage until you’re age 35, you will pay 10 percent more annually than you would have if you had purchased it at age 30.

There are exemptions for some people who were overseas when they turned 30, or for new immigrants, and certain others under special exception status. However, if you purchased private insurance after age 30 and are paying an age loading penalty on your health coverage, you will be relieved of the excess penalty after 10 years of continual coverage.

The earlier in life that you lock in to a private health plan, the more money you will save both immediately and over your lifetime.

5. Choose a health care provider who already works with your health fund.

Determine which hospital you prefer if and when the need for treatment does arise, and seek out those health insurance providers that have an agreement with your hospital of choice before making a decision on your health insurance purchase.

It’s a good idea to also find out if your insurer has a list of “preferred providers,” which would include those physicians and practitioners who also have made arrangements with the health funds regarding their charges for services. Request this information from every provider when comparing health insurance policies. This way you can be sure you’ll receive the full gamut of benefits available at the lowest possible cost. These preferred providers often have “no gap” cover – special rates that reduce or eliminate out-of-pocket expenses to policyholders.

6. Double check your health insurance policy before you schedule any treatment or procedures to make sure you have coverage.

Any time you are headed to a private hospital for treatment, first check to see if the hospital and your health insurance provider have an agreement to be absolutely sure you have adequate coverage. At the same time, check with your insurance provider, physician and the hospital to see if there is a Gap between their fees and the government’s Medicare Benefits. This is extremely important because if your physician charges more than Medicare covers and you do not have a “no Gap” plan set up, you could find yourself responsible for a considerable bill. Simply contact your doctor and your insurance company to double check on these items, and avoid being saddled with an out-of-pocket expense your weren’t expecting.

7. File your expense claims promptly.

When you have a health insurance membership card, you can file a claim against your benefits at the time of treatment with no additional paperwork or filing to worry about, at least in most cases. Sometimes, you may still need to file a claim with your insurance provider. When that happens, make sure to file your claim promptly. The typical cut off for insurers to pay health care claims is two years. You can file your health insurance claim directly with your provider or at your area Medicare office, which has a reciprocal agreement in place with most insurance providers. 8. Whenever you travel overseas, suspend your health coverage.

Anytime you travel overseas for more than a few weeks but less than 24 months, certain medical insurance providers allow policyholders to suspend their memberships for the time they’re out of the country, freeing the policyholders from paying premiums during that time period. While your insurance policy is suspended, your Lifetime Health Cover status remains intact, so you do not have to worry about age loading added when you return home. Contact your health insurance provider to make sure of their policy and rules regarding waiting periods and re-activation.

Remember too that Australia has reciprocal arrangements in certain countries, including New Zealand, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden and the U.K. For more information, visit http://www.smartraveller.gov.au.

9. Review your policy benefits annually.

Lifestyles change, individuals get married, have children, age – children grow up and move out on their own, couples separate. A lot can happen in the span of 12 months, which is why the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman recommends that everyone review their policy benefits once every year to make sure your coverage still fits your needs.

Regardless of your life changes, your Lifetime Health Cover status remains protected, and waiting periods for benefits that equal your current coverage are waived in compliance with the Private Health Insurance Act of 2007. This means you will be able to file claims related to features you had before you made any changes without interruption in benefits.

10. Compare policies to get the best price and the coverage you need.

To make sure that you are getting the best possible price on your health insurance premium, you must compare policies from different insurers, Make sure you are comparing policies that reflect the treatment plan and coverage you need, without filler services that you won’t need. The more you know about private health coverage and government sponsored Medicare, the more likely you will find the best value for your money when it comes time to purchasing or renewing your health coverage.

Limited Liability Corportations and Foreign Investment in California Real Estate

There is some exciting news for foreign investors due to recent geo-political developments and the emergence of several financial factors. This coalescence of events, has at its core, the major drop in the price of US real estate, combined with the exodus of capital from Russia and China. Among foreign investors this has suddenly and significantly produced a demand for real estate in California.

Our research shows that China alone, spent $22 billion on U.S. housing in the last 12 months, much more than they spent the year before. Chinese in particular have a great advantage driven by their strong domestic economy, a stable exchange rate, increased access to credit and desire for diversification and secure investments.

We can cite several reasons for this rise in demand for US Real Estate by foreign Investors, but the primary attraction is the global recognition of the fact that the United States is currently enjoying an economy that is growing relative to other developed nations. Couple that growth and stability with the fact that the US has a transparent legal system which creates an easy avenue for non-U.S. citizens to invest, and what we have is a perfect alignment of both timing and financial law… creating prime opportunity! The US also imposes no currency controls, making it easy to divest, which makes the prospect of Investment in US Real Estate even more attractive.

Here, we provide a few facts that will be useful for those considering investment in Real Estate in the US and Califonia in particular. We will take the sometimes difficult language of these topics and attempt to make them easy to understand.

This article will touch briefly on some of the following topics: Taxation of foreign entities and international investors. U.S. trade or businessTaxation of U.S. entities and individuals. Effectively connected income. Non-effectively connected income. Branch Profits Tax. Tax on excess interest. U.S. withholding tax on payments made to the foreign investor. Foreign corporations. Partnerships. Real Estate Investment Trusts. Treaty protection from taxation. Branch Profits Tax Interest income. Business profits. Income from real property. Capitol gains and third-country use of treaties/limitation on benefits.

We will also briefly highlight dispositions of U.S. real estate investments, including U.S. real property interests, the definition of a U.S. real property holding corporation “USRPHC”, U.S. tax consequences of investing in United States Real Property Interests ” USRPIs” through foreign corporations, Foreign Investment Real Property Tax Act “FIRPTA” withholding and withholding exceptions.

Non-U.S. citizens choose to invest in US real estate for many different reasons and they will have a diverse range of aims and goals. Many will want to insure that all processes are handled quickly, expeditiously and correctly as well as privately and in some cases with complete anonymity. Secondly, the issue of privacy in regards to your investment is extremely important. With the rise of the internet, private information is becoming more and more public. Although you may be required to reveal information for tax purposes, you are not required, and should not, disclose property ownership for all the world to see. One purpose for privacy is legitimate asset protection from questionable creditor claims or lawsuits. Generally, the less individuals, businesses or government agencies know about your private affairs, the better.

Reducing taxes on your U.S. investments is also a major consideration. When investing in U.S. real estate, one must consider whether property is income-producing and whether or not that income is ‘passive income’ or income produced by trade or business. Another concern, especially for older investors, is whether the investor is a U.S. resident for estate tax purposes.

The purpose of an LLC, Corporation or Limited Partnership is to form a shield of protection between you personally for any liability arising from the activities of the entity. LLCs offer greater structuring flexibility and better creditor protection than limited partnerships, and are generally preferred over corporations for holding smaller real estate properties. LLC’s aren’t subject to the record-keeping formalities that corporations are.

If an investor uses a corporation or an LLC to hold real property, the entity will have to register with the California Secretary of State. In doing so, articles of incorporation or the statement of information become visible to the world, including the identity of the corporate officers and directors or the LLC manager.

An great example is the formation of a two-tier structure to help protect you by creating a California LLC to own the real estate, and a Delaware LLC to act as the manager of the California LLC. The benefits to using this two-tier structure are simple and effective but must one must be precise in implementation of this strategy.

In the state of Delaware, the name of the LLC manager is not required to be disclosed, subsequently, the only proprietary information that will appear on California form is the name of the Delaware LLC as the manager. Great care is exercised so that the Delaware LLC is not deemed to be doing business in California and this perfectly legal technical loophole is one of many great tools for acquiring Real Estate with minimal Tax and other liability.

Regarding using a trust to hold real property, the actual name of the trustee and the name of the trust must appear on the recorded deed. Accordingly, If using a trust, the investor might not want to be the trustee, and the trust need not include the investor’s name. To insure privacy, a generic name can be used for the entity.

In the case of any real estate investment that happens to be encumbered by debt, the borrower’s name will appear on the recorded deed of trust, even if title is taken in the name of a trust or an LLC. But when the investor personally guarantees the loan by acting AS the borrower through the trust entity, THEN the borrower’s name may be kept private! At this point the Trust entity becomes the borrower and the owner of the property. This insures that the investor’s name does not appear on any recorded documents.

Because formalities, like holding annual meetings of shareholders and maintaining annual minutes, are not required in the case of limited partnerships and LLCs, they are often preferred over corporations. Failing to observe corporate formalities can lead to failure of the liability shield between the individual investor and the corporation. This failure in legal terms is called “piercing the corporate veil”.

Limited partnerships and LLCs may create a more effective asset protection stronghold than corporations, because interests and assets may be more difficult to reach by creditors to the investor.

To illustrate this, let’s assume an individual in a corporation owns, say, an apartment complex and this corporation receives a judgment against it by a creditor. The creditor can now force the debtor to turn over the stock of the corporation which can result in a devastating loss of corporate assets. However, when the debtor owns the apartment building through either a Limited Partnership or an LLC the creditor’s recourse is limited to a simple charging order, which places a lien on distributions from the LLC or limited partnership, but keeps the creditor from seizing partnership assets and keeps the creditor out the affairs of the LLC or Partnership.

Income Taxation of Real Estate

For the purposes of Federal Income tax a foreigner is referred to as nonresident alien (NRA). An NRA can be defined as a foreign corporation or a person who either;

A) Physically is present in the United States for less than 183 days in any given year. B) Physically is present less than 31 days in the current year. C) Physically is present for less than 183 total days for a three-year period (using a weighing formula) and does not hold a green card.

The applicable Income tax rules associated to NRAs can be quite complex, but as a general rule, the income that IS subject to withholding is a 30 percent flat tax on “fixed or determinable” – “annual or periodical” (FDAP) income (originating in the US), that is not effectively connected to a U.S. trade or business that is subject to withholding. Important point there, which we will address momentarily.

Tax rates imposed on NRAs may be reduced by any applicable treaties and the Gross income is what gets taxed with almost not offsetting deductions. So here, we need to address exactly what FDAP income includes. FDAP is considered to include; interest, dividends, royalties, and rents.

Simply put, NRAs are subject to a 30 percent tax when receiving interest income from U.S. sources. Included within the definitions of FDAP are some miscellaneous categories of income such as; annuity payments, certain insurance premiums, gambling winnings, and alimony.

Capital gains from U.S. sources, however, are generally not taxable unless: A)The NRA is present in the United States for more than 183 days. B) The gains can be effectively connected to a U.S. trade or business. C) The gains are from the sale of certain timber, coal, or domestic iron ore assets.

NRA’s can and will be taxed on capital gains (originating in the US) at the rate of 30 percent when these exceptions apply.Because NRA’s are taxed on income in the same manner as a US taxpayers when that income can effectively be connected to a US trade or business, then it becomes necessary to define what constitutes; “U.S. trade or business” and to what “effectively connected” means. This is where we can limit the taxable liability.

There are several ways in which the US defines “US trade or Business” but there is no set and specific code definition. The term “US Trade or Business” can be seen as: selling products in the United States (either directly or through an agent), soliciting orders for merchandise from the US and those goods out of the US, providing personal services in the United States, manufacturing, maintaining a retail store, and maintaining corporate offices in the United States.Conversely, there are highly specific and complex definitions for “effectively connected” involving the “force of attraction” and “asset-use” rules, as well as “business-activities” tests.

Generally and for simplistic explanation, an NRA is “effectively connected” if he or she is engaged as a General or limited partner in a U.S. trade or business. Similarly, if the estate or trust is so engaged in trade or business then any beneficiary of said trust or estate is also engaged

For real estate, the nature of the rental income becomes the critical concern. The Real Estate becomes passive if it is generated by a triple-net lease or from lease of unimproved land. When held in this manner and considered passive the rental income is taxed on a gross basis, at a flat rate of 30 percent with applicable withholding and no deductions.

Investors should consider electing to treat their passive real property income, as income from a U.S. trade or business, because the nature of this type of holding and loss of deduction inherent therein is often tax prohibited. However, the election can only be made if the property is generating income.

If the NRA owns or invests in or owns unimproved land that will be developed in the future, he or she should consider leasing the land. This is a great way to generate income. Investment in income-generating allows the NRA the ability to claim deductions from the property and generate a loss carry-forward that will offset income in future years.

There are many tools we can use to assist our NRA clients in avoiding taxation on Real Estate income property, one of which is ‘portfolio interest’, which is payable only on a debt instrument and not subject to taxation or withholding. There are several ways to fit within the confines of these ‘portfolio interest’ rules. NRAs can participate in the practice of lending through equity participation loans or loans with equity kickers. An equity kicker is like a loan that allows the lender to participate in equity appreciation. Allowing the lender to convert debt into equity in the form of a conversion option is one way that this can be accomplished as these provisions usually increase interest rates on a contingent basis to mimic equity participation.

There are two levels of tax applicable to a foreign individual or a foreign corporation who owns a U.S. corporation.

The U.S. corporation will be subject subjected to a 30 percent withholding tax on its profits, when the income is not re-invested in the United States and there will be a tax on dividends paid to the foreign shareholders as well. When the U.S. business is owned by a foreign corporation, whether directly or through a disregarded entity, or through a pass-through entity. The branch profits tax replicates the double tax.

The U.S. has treaties covering the ‘branch profits tax’ with most of the European nations, reducing the tax to between 5 and 10 percent. The 30 percent tax is onerous, as it applies to a “dividend equivalent amount,” which is the corporation’s effectively connected earnings and profits for the year, less investments the corporation makes in its U.S. assets (money and adjusted bases of property connected with the conduct of a U.S. trade or business). The tax is imposed even if there is no distribution.

Foreign corporations are taxed on their effectively connected income and on any deemed dividends, which are any profits not reinvested in the United State under the branch profits tax.

The rules applicable to the tax on the disposition of real estate are found in a separate regime known as the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980 (FIRPTA).

Generally, FIRTPA taxes an NRAs holdings of U.S. real property interest (USRPI) as if he or she were engaged in a U.S. trade or business. As mentioned earlier, this means that the traditional income tax rules that apply to U.S. taxpayers will also apply to the NRA. Obligation to withhold 10 percent of the amount realized on any disposition falls on purchasers who acquire a USRPI from an NRA.

Ownership and interests of Real Estate Property include: fee ownership, co-ownership, leasehold, timeshare, a life estate, a remainder, a reversion or a right to participate in the appreciation of real property or in the profits from real property. For purposes of definition interest in real property would include any ownership of personal property used to exploit natural resources, land, buildings, mineral deposits, crops, fixtures, operations to construct improvements, the operation of a lodging facility, or providing a furnished office to a tenant (including movable walls or furnishings) as well as Improvements, leaseholds, or options to acquire any of the above.

There are several ways in which a partnership interest is treated as a USRPI: A domestic corporation will be treated as a U.S. real property holding corporation (USRPHC) if USRPIs are equal to or exceed 50 percent of the sum of the corporation’s assets. OR when 50 percent or more of the value of the gross partnership assets consists of USRPIs – Or when 50 percent or more of the value of partnership gross assets consist of USRPIs plus cash and cash equivalents. The disposition of partnership interest will be subject to FIRPTA. To the extent that such partnership continues to own USRPIs they will remain subject to this withholding.

The good news is that disposition of an interest in a USRPHC is subject to the FIRPTA tax and withholding but is not subject to state income tax. There is an obvious benefit when compared with the disposition of a USRPI owned directly. USRPI which are owned directly are subject to the lower federal capital gains rate as well as state income tax. If, however on the date of the disposition the corporation had no USRPIs and the totality of the gain was fully recognized (no installment sales or exchanges) on the sale of any USRPIs sold within the past five years Then this disposition cannot be subject to these rules.

Any USRPI sold by an NRA (individual or corporation) will be subject to 10 percent withholding of the amount realized. Withholding applies even if the property is sold at a loss.

The purchaser must report the withholding and pay over the tax, using Form 8288 within 20 days of the purchase. This is to be duly noted because if the purchaser fails to collect the withholding tax from the foreigner, the purchaser will be liable for not only the tax, but also any applicable penalties and interest. The withheld taxes are later credited against the total tax liability of the foreigner.

Instances wherein withholding is not required, are the following:

The seller provides a certificate of non-foreign status. Property acquired by the purchaser is not a USRPI. The transferred property is stock of a domestic corporation and the corporation provides a certificate that it is not a USRPHC.

The USRPI acquired will be used by the purchaser as a residence and the amount realized by the foreigner on the disposition is $300,000 or less. The disposition is not subject to tax, or the amount realized by the foreigner on the disposition is zero.

Estate and Gift Tax: In determining who is an NRA and who is excluded the test is completely different for estate tax purposes. The focus of inquiry will centers around the decedent’s residence. This test is very subjective and focuses primarily on intent.The test considers factors from across the board, such as how long the NRA has been in the United States, how often he or she travels as well as the size, and cost of home in the United States. The test will also look at the location of NRA’s family, their participation in community activities, participation in U.S. business and ownership of assets in the United States. Voting is also taken into consideration.

A foreigner can be a U.S. resident for income tax purposes but not be domiciled for estate tax purposes. An NRA, whether a nonresident alien or non-domiciliary, will be subject to a different transfer taxes (estate and gift taxes) than a U.S. taxpayer. Only the gross part of the NRA’s Estate that at the time of death is situated in the United States will be taxed with the estate tax. Although the rate of NRA’s estate tax will be the same as that imposed on U.S. citizens and resident aliens, the unified credit is only $13,000 (equivalent to about $60,000 of property value).

These may be ameliorated by any existing estate tax treaty. European countries, Australia, and Japan enjoys these treaties, The U.S. does not maintain as many estate tax treaties as income tax treaties.

The IRC defines the following property as situated in the United States: A) Shares of stock of a U.S. corporation. B) Revocable transfers or transfers within three years of death of U.S. property or transfers with a retained interest (described in IRC Sections 2035 to 2038). C) Debt issued by a U.S. person or a governmental entity within the United States (e.g., municipal bonds).

Real estate in the United States is considered U.S. property when it is physical personal property such as works of art, furniture, cars, and currency. Debt, however is ignored if it is recourse debt, but gross value is included, not just equity. U.S.-situs property is also a US property if it is a beneficial interest in a trust holding. Life insurance is NOT included as U.S.-situs property.

The estate tax returns must disclose all of the NRA’s worldwide assets, in order to determine the ratio that the U.S. assets bear to non-U.S. assets. The gross estate is reduced by various deductions relating to the U.S.-situs property. This ratio determines the percentage of allowable deductions that may be claimed against the gross estate.

As mentioned earlier, when real estate is subject to a recourse mortgage, the gross value of the real estate is included, offset by the mortgage debt. This distinction is very relevant for NRAs whose debts are subject to apportionment between U.S. and non-U.S. assets and therefore not fully deductible.

Accurate planning is crucial. Let us illustrate: An NRA can own US property through a foreign corporation and this property is not included in the NRA’s estate. This means that the US Real property owned by the NRA has now effectively been converted into a non-U.S. intangible asset.

And with Real Estate that was not initially acquired through a foreign corporation, you can still avoid future taxation to the estate by paying an income tax today on the transfer of the real estate to a foreign corporation (usually treated as a sale).

An NRA donor is not subject to U.S. gift taxes on any gifts of non-U.S. situs property gifted to any person, including U.S. citizens and residents. Gift taxes are imposed on the donor. Gifts from an NRA that are in excess of $100,000 must reported on Form 3520.46 by citizens and residents, however, Gifts of U.S.-situs assets are subject to gift taxes, with the exception of intangibles, which are not taxable. If it is physically located in the United States tangible personal property and real property is sited within the United States. The lifetime unified credit is not available to NRA donors, but NRA donors are allowed the same annual gift tax exclusion as other taxpayers. NRA’s are also subject to the same rate-schedule for gift taxes.

The primary thrust of estate tax planning for NRAs is through the use of; the following: Foreign corporations to own U.S. assets, and the gift tax exemption for intangibles to remove assets from the United States. It is very important that the corporation have a business purpose and activity, lest it be deemed a sham designed to avoid U.S. estate taxes. If the NRA dies owning shares of stock in a foreign corporation, the shares are not included in the NRA’s estate, regardless of the situs of the corporation’s assets.

Let us break this down into one easy to read and understand paragraph:

In a nutshell, shares in U.S. corporations and interests in partnerships or LLCs are intangibles and the gift of an intangible, wherever situated, by an NRA is not subject to gift tax. Consequently, real estate owned by the NRA through a U.S. corporation, partnership, or LLC may be removed from the NRA’s U.S. estate by gifting entity interests to foreign relatives.

Ownership Structures: Here we discuss the ownership architectures under which NRA’s can acquire Real Estate. The NRA’s personal goals and priorities of course dictate the type of architecture that will be used. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these alternatives. Direct investment for example, (real estate owned by the NRA) is simple and is subject to only one level of tax on the disposition. The sale is taxed at a 15 percent rate If the real estate is held for one year. There are many disadvantages to the direct investment approach, a few of which are: no privacy, no liability protection, the obligation to file U.S. income tax returns, and if the NRA dies while owning the property, his or her estate is subject to U.S. estate taxes.

When an NRA acquires the real estate through an LLC or an LP, this is considered an LLC or a limited partnership structure. This structure provides the NRA with protection of privacy and liability and allows for lifetime transfers that escape the gift tax. The obligation to file U.S. income tax returns and the possibility for U.S. estate tax on death remain, however.

Ownership of real estate through a domestic corporation, will afford privacy and liability protection, obviate the foreigner’s need to file individual U.S. income tax returns and allow lifetime gift tax-free transfers. *this refers to a C corporation, since a foreign shareholder precludes an S corporation.

Ownership of stock will not trigger a return filing obligation, unlike engaging in a U.S. trade or business which requires a U.S. tax return

Ownership of real estate through a domestic corporation has three disadvantages: Federal and state corporate income tax at the corporate level will add a second layer of tax. Dividends from the domestic corporation to its foreign shareholder will be subject to 30 percent withholding. Shares of the domestic corporation will be included in the U.S. estate of the foreign shareholder.

Furthermore, the foreign shareholder will be subject to FIRPTA, because the corporation will be treated as a USRPHC (upon the disposition of the stock in the corporation). The purchaser of the shares is then required the file a U.S. income tax return with 10 percent tax withholding. Actual ownership of the real estate may be held by the U.S. corporation directly, or by a disregarded entity owned by the corporation or through a U.S. partnership. An LLC that chooses to be taxed as a corporation can also be the corporation.

There are several advantages to foreign corporation ownership:

Liability protection– There is no U.S. income tax or filing requirement for the foreign shareholder. Shares in the foreign corporation are non-U.S. assets not included in the U.S. estate.

Dividends are not subject to U.S. withholding. There is no tax or filing requirement on the disposition of the stock. There is no gift tax on the transfer of those shares of stock.

Disadvantages of using the foreign corporation: A) just like with the domestic corporation, there will be corporate level taxes, because the foreign corporation will be deemed engaged in a U.S. trade or business. B) Possibly the largest disadvantage of ownership of U.S. real estate through a foreign corporation would be that the foreign corporation will be subject to the branch profits tax.

One of the most advantageous structure for ownership of U.S. real estate by NRAs is a hybrid foreign and U.S. corporation. It runs like this: The NRA owns a foreign corporation that in turn owns a U.S. LLC taxed as a corporation. The benefits to this type of structure is paramount to a good tax shield and offers: privacy and liability protection, escaping U.S. individual income tax filing requirements and it also avoids U.S. estate taxes. On top of that it allows for gift tax-free lifetime transfers, and avoids the branch profits tax.

The beauty and benefit of this is that the timing and the amount of this dividend is within the NRA’s control even though distributions from the U.S. subsidiary to the foreign parent are subject to the 30 percent FDAP withholding.

There are many things to consider and several structures available to limit tax liability, preserve and protect anonymity and increase profits of US Real Estate investments by foreign investors. We must keep in mind that each investment presents its own challenges and no structure is perfect. Advantages and disadvantages abound which will require a tailored analysis in light of the individual or group objectives.

It’s really about implementing a structure which will successfully carry the NRA through to his or her END GAME, with the utmost protection from liability and the maximum return on investment.

5 Challenges in Business Intelligence and How to Solve Them

Ever wondered what a well-planned and deployed business intelligence project can do for your business without all the challenges? By now if you’re not aggressively mining your data you’re not only leaving money on the table, you’re falling behind your competitors. Looking for basic aberrations and trends in data for sales, marketing, operations and customers is second nature to most companies. This will help you tread water for a time but did you know you unlock exponential value to your data once you reach cross functional, role based, and collaborative analysis which enables iterative business process improvement?

The challenges to operative data visibility are pretty easy to identify in a company. Do any of these ring a bell? You have a thousand spreadsheets stored on your network and different departments may have different values for the same measure? The executives have clear objectives and have a strategy but if you ask an individual contributor there is only a vague notion of what they are, or are pursuing their own department objectives? You have data, a vision for analyzing your marketing or industry metrics but your IT department takes so long to assist with setting up the reporting tools and infrastructure that it becomes irrelevant before you can act?

But let’s back up a little and first understand what business intelligence is in the first place. There are a lot of terms thrown around like analytics, ad hoc reporting, data warehouse, key performance indicators and forecasting to name a few. If you ask ten people you’re likely to get 20 answers to the same question. The fact is, business intelligence applied in a business environment is an ecosystem of both technical and business factors that drive performance in an organization aligned to strategic objectives. The business components like strategy mapping, business process improvement and collaboration are just as important to the technical reporting, warehouse and ETL tools.

The actual process for running or starting a business intelligence project is a prescriptive methodology that is very different from other types of projects and as such there are best practices based on the size of the organization, vertical, maturity, objectives and processes being measured. In some ways it’s both an art and a science.

In short form, you’ll thoroughly understand your company’s objectives and how your department fits into that story. Then analyze the different processes in your company that affect those performances. Determine the measures within those processes that can be affected by managing their performance. These should be as far back in the process as possible which we call leading indicators, those which can be changed before the results are locked into your balance sheet. Then on the business side you’ll start your internal marketing campaign, yes internal. And at the same time start to round up the data for your analysis. And this is when the real work begins!Though the following tips are not exhaustive or definitive, they are certainly some traps that a lot of organizations fall into while stepping up the BI Maturity Ladder from basic operational and transactional reporting to immersive and responsibility based performance management.

Executive sponsorship is critical but so is employee buy-in

Ever heard the term, “you can’t push a rope”? Leadership can have the greatest plans for moving the business forward but unless each and every contributor to the processes that affect the outcome have bought into the mission and actively participate, the movement won’t get very far. Yes you can use the hammer and tie incentives to performance immediately instead of over time for which you will receive immediate backlash as a result. Or better yet positive reinforcement by making progress and goals at a high level visible and celebrated for all to see and introduce some cross department competition on conformed measures. A good leader inspires the best in people, not the worst.

Pro tip: Leadership should make every effort to communicate not just on the metrics but also adoption and accuracy.

Drive vertical then go horizontal

Lofty enterprise goals are very hard to implement across an organization, it requires massive amounts of cooperation amongst departments to define measures, setup architecture and extract from complicated source systems which can be expensive. Instead start with one process that, for example, drives one channel of your sales funnel and then drive that vertical to the individual contributor level in the form or actionable reporting, “Here are the clients that need to be called today for satisfaction feedback”. In this way you can start to see immediate results and use it as a template to implement in your organization for other processes and departments.

Pro tip: Setup a regular BI governance and education roundtable meeting to foster communication and iterative improvement among the BI stewards at all levels.

Stay focused on the business drivers, not the technical hurdles

There is an odd dichotomy to business intelligence depending on your business or technical background. If you are a business person maybe you’ve heard of the Kimball methodology for data warehouse design. If you haven’t that’s okay but that’s what your IT professionals are using to build out your backend data repository and this may not always provide the data in the form that you need from a business perspective. It is an object oriented approach to data that, depending on the complexity of the data sources, can take months or years to develop and deploy. If your organization needs to be nimble shouldn’t you be able to make decisions faster than that? To overcome this as a business user, start with a coherent set of sample data and then prototype what you want in your role-based reports and dashboards, including objectives and goals. You should define the calculations, granularity, security, availability and as much agreement from business leadership as you can before approaching IT. Your month long sprints should include visible deliverables back to the business even if they are very small iterative improvements.

Pro tip: Your business intelligence architect is the best translator between business and IT, they will make this communication much easier.

Organizational change and data visibility is unsettling

When you first begin your BI initiative you will probably begin with interviews to better understand your processes from the different subject matter experts and data stewards. Through these interviews it will be pretty easy to spot who is not on board with your project. Everyone is busy and it’s not easy to squeeze out more time for yet another “pet” project of the higher-ups. Not to mention it may require change to already overburdened workers who are trying to do the best they can with less budget and time. But there can be other reasons as well, data visibility can expose weaknesses or mitigate control over a certain functional area. On the positive side, data visibility can also expose strengths and opportunities which may be leveraged in other areas. Once again, focusing on the ultimate objectives, clear an honest communication and support from the executive team is essential to moving through road blocks. The challenge is to make the change process as positive as possible for all involved. Rapid and successful improvements in processes leading to better metrics will help show value and increase confidence in the initiative.Pro tip: During requirements be sure to measure the current state process in terms of hours or cost or opportunity and then the improved state so later you can show your BI on BI in the form of ROI.

Don’t exclusively focus on financial metrics

At the end of the quarter or year it’s not uncommon to get a report on sales revenue, cost of goods sold, other expenses and profit. But by the time these are realized whatever variables led to these metrics are impossible to change for the current timeframe. You could only look in your rear view mirror for potential fixes to be applied to the next quarter or year. The goal should be to develop an early warning system amongst your operational, customer and employee metrics where if changes are made early enough you would still have time to moderate the effects. Think of your processes as a linear timeline that may intersect other processes. For example, if the goal is to reduce customer acquisition cost by increasing customer retention you might measure employee support training or development speed on customer requested functionality. Both of these processes affect financial performance but the leading indicators allow for much earlier identification and improvement prior to their impact on the bottom line.

Pro Tip: Use what-if scenarios to determine the highest impact leading indicators and set your goals. Indicators can be rated on impact, probability and complexity. Also be sure that you are using key performance indicators and not metrics, KPIs are mostly measured using percentages, indexes and ratios.

So the takeaway from starting and progressing a business intelligence initiative in your organization can have challenges but they can be overcome. Get strong executive sponsorship and involvement, start with a vertical challenge that can provide the best ROI, deliver a role-based solution that can be quickly deployed, understand that change and data visibility can be unsettling so make it a positive experience and finally, start with the financial metrics you want to improve but then identify as far back in the processes as possible those metrics and roles that affect them.

The Top 5 Key Benefits of Purchasing and Owning Investment Real Estate

So… You may ask yourself, why should you buy or invest in real estate in the First Place? Because it’s the IDEAL investment! Let’s take a moment to address the reasons why people should have investment real estate in the first place. The easiest answer is a well-known acronym that addresses the key benefits for all investment real estate. Put simply, Investment Real Estate is an IDEAL investment. The IDEAL stands for:

• I – Income
• D – Depreciation
• E – Expenses
• A – Appreciation
• L – Leverage

Real estate is the IDEAL investment compared to all others. I’ll explain each benefit in depth.

The “I” in IDEAL stands for Income. (a.k.a. positive cash flow) Does it even generate income? Your investment property should be generating income from rents received each month. Of course, there will be months where you may experience a vacancy, but for the most part your investment will be producing an income. Be careful because many times beginning investors exaggerate their assumptions and don’t take into account all potential costs. The investor should know going into the purchase that the property will COST money each month (otherwise known as negative cash flow). This scenario, although not ideal, may be OK, only in specific instances that we will discuss later. It boils down to the risk tolerance and ability for the owner to fund and pay for a negative producing asset. In the boom years of real estate, prices were sky high and the rents didn’t increase proportionately with many residential real estate investment properties. Many naïve investors purchased properties with the assumption that the appreciation in prices would more than compensate for the fact that the high balance mortgage would be a significant negative impact on the funds each month. Be aware of this and do your best to forecast a positive cash flow scenario, so that you can actually realize the INCOME part of the IDEAL equation.

Often times, it may require a higher down payment (therefore lesser amount being mortgaged) so that your cash flow is acceptable each month. Ideally, you eventually pay off the mortgage so there is no question that cash flow will be coming in each month, and substantially so. This ought to be a vital component to one’s retirement plan. Do this a few times and you won’t have to worry about money later on down the road, which is the main goal as well as the reward for taking the risk in purchasing investment property in the first place.

The “D” in IDEAL Stands for Depreciation. With investment real estate, you are able to utilize its depreciation for your own tax benefit. What is depreciation anyway? It’s a non-cost accounting method to take into account the overall financial burden incurred through real estate investment. Look at this another way, when you buy a brand new car, the minute you drive off the lot, that car has depreciated in value. When it comes to your investment real estate property, the IRS allows you to deduct this amount yearly against your taxes. Please note: I am not a tax professional, so this is not meant to be a lesson in taxation policy or to be construed as tax advice.

With that said, the depreciation of a real estate investment property is determined by the overall value of the structure of the property and the length of time (recovery period based on the property type-either residential or commercial). If you have ever gotten a property tax bill, they usually break your property’s assessed value into two categories: one for the value of the land, and the other for the value of the structure. Both of these values added up equals your total “basis” for property taxation. When it comes to depreciation, you can deduct against your taxes on the original base value of the structure only; the IRS doesn’t allow you to depreciate land value (because land is typically only APPRECIATING). Just like your new car driving off the lot, it’s the structure on the property that is getting less and less valuable every year as its effective age gets older and older. And you can use this to your tax advantage. The best example of the benefit regarding this concept is through depreciation, you can actually turn a property that creates a positive cash flow into one that shows a loss (on paper) when dealing with taxes and the IRS. And by doing so, that (paper) loss is deductible against your income for tax purposes. Therefore, it’s a great benefit for people that are specifically looking for a “tax-shelter” of sorts for their real estate investments.

For example, and without getting too technical, assume that you are able to depreciate $15,000 a year from a $500,000 residential investment property that you own. Let’s say that you are cash-flowing $1,000 a month (meaning that after all expenses, you are net-positive $1000 each month), so you have $12,000 total annual income for the year from this property’s rental income. Although you took in $12,000, you can show through your accountancy with the depreciation of the investment real estate that you actually lost $3,000 on paper, which is used against any income taxes that you may owe. From the standpoint of IRS, this property realized a loss of $3,000 after the “expense” of the $15,000 depreciation amount was taken into account. Not only are there no taxes due on that rental income, you can utilize the paper loss of $3,000 against your other regular taxable income from your day-job. Investment property at higher price points will have proportionally higher tax-shelter qualities. Investors use this to their benefit in being able to deduct as much against their taxable amount owed each year through the benefit of depreciation with their underlying real estate investment.

Although this is a vastly important benefit to owning investment real estate, the subject is not well understood. Because depreciation is a somewhat complicated tax subject, the above explanation was meant to be cursory in nature. When it comes to issues involving taxes and depreciation, make sure you have a tax professional that can advise you appropriately so you know where you stand.

The “E” in IDEAL is for Expenses – Generally, all expenses incurred relating to the property are deductible when it comes to your investment property. The cost for utilities, the cost for insurance, the mortgage, and the interest and property taxes you pay. If you use a property manager or if you’re repairing or improving the property itself, all of this is deductible. Real estate investment comes with a lot of expenses, duties, and responsibilities to ensure the investment property itself performs to its highest capability. Because of this, contemporary tax law generally allows that all of these related expenses are deductible to the benefit of the investment real estate landowner. If you were to ever take a loss, or purposefully took a loss on a business investment or investment property, that loss (expense) can carry over for multiple years against your income taxes. For some people, this is an aggressive and technical strategy. Yet it’s another potential benefit of investment real estate.

The “A” in IDEAL is for Appreciation – Appreciation means the growth of value of the underlying investment. It’s one of the main reasons that we invest in the first place, and it’s a powerful way to grow your net worth. Many homes in the city of San Francisco are several million dollars in today’s market, but back in the 1960s, the same property was worth about the cost of the car you are currently driving (probably even less!). Throughout the years, the area became more popular and the demand that ensued caused the real estate prices in the city to grow exponentially compared to where they were a few decades ago. People that were lucky enough to recognize this, or who were just in the right place at the right time and continued to live in their home have realized an investment return in the 1000’s of percent. Now that’s what appreciation is all about. What other investment can make you this kind of return without drastically increased risk? The best part about investment real estate is that someone is paying you to live in your property, paying off your mortgage, and creating an income (positive cash flow) to you each month along the way throughout your course of ownership.

The “L” in IDEAL stands for Leverage – A lot of people refer to this as “OPM” (other people’s money). This is when you are using a small amount of your money to control a much more expensive asset. You are essentially leveraging your down payment and gaining control of an asset that you would normally not be able to purchase without the loan itself. Leverage is much more acceptable in the real estate world and inherently less risky than leverage in the stock world (where this is done through means of options or buying “on Margin”). Leverage is common in real estate. Otherwise, people would only buy property when they had 100% of the cash to do so. Over a third of all purchase transactions are all-cash transactions as our recovery continues. Still, about 2/3 of all purchases are done with some level of financing, so the majority of buyers in the market enjoy the power that leverage can offer when it comes to investment real estate.

For example, if a real estate investor was to buy a house that costs $100,000 with 10% down payment, they are leveraging the remaining 90% through the use of the associated mortgage. Let’s say the local market improves by 20% over the next year, and therefore the actual property is now worth $120,000. When it comes to leverage, from the standpoint of this property, its value increased by 20%. But compared to the investor’s actual down payment (the “skin in the game”) of $10,000- this increase in property value of 20% really means the investor doubled their return on the investment actually made-also known as the “cash on cash” return. In this case, that is 200%-because the $10,000 is now responsible and entitled to a $20,000 increase in overall value and the overall potential profit.

Although leverage is considered a benefit, like everything else, there can always be too much of a good thing. In 2007, when the real estate market took a turn for the worst, many investors were over-leveraged and fared the worst. They could not weather the storm of a correcting economy. Exercising caution with every investment made will help to ensure that you can purchase, retain, pay-off debt, and grow your wealth from the investment decisions made as opposed to being at the mercy and whim of the overall market fluctuations. Surely there will be future booms and busts as the past would dictate as we continue to move forward. More planning and preparing while building net worth will help prevent getting bruised and battered by the side effects of whatever market we find ourselves in. Many people think that investment real estate is only about cash flow and appreciation, but it’s so much more than that. As mentioned above, you can realize several benefits through each real estate investment property you purchase. The challenge is to maximize the benefits through every investment.

Furthermore, the IDEAL acronym is not just a reminder of the benefits of investment real estate; it’s also here to serve as a guide for every investment property you will consider purchasing in the future. Any property you purchase should conform to all of the letters that represent the IDEAL acronym. The underlying property should have a good reason for not fitting all the guidelines. And in almost every case, if there is an investment you are considering that doesn’t hit all the guidelines, by most accounts you should probably PASS on it!

Take for example a story of my own, regarding a property that I purchased early on in my real estate career. To this day, it’s the biggest investment mistake that I’ve made, and it’s precisely because I didn’t follow the IDEAL guidelines that you are reading and learning about now. I was naïve and my experience was not yet fully developed. The property I purchased was a vacant lot in a gated community development. The property already had an HOA (a monthly maintenance fee) because of the nice amenity facilities that were built for it, and in anticipation of would-be-built homes. There were high expectations for the future appreciation potential-but then the market turned for the worse as we headed into the great recession that lasted from 2007-2012. Can you see what parts of the IDEAL guidelines I missed on completely?

Let’s start with “I”. The vacant lot made no income! Sometimes this can be acceptable, if the deal is something that cannot be missed. But for the most part this deal was nothing special. In all honesty, I’ve considered selling the trees that are currently on the vacant lot to the local wood mill for some actual income, or putting up a camping spot ad on the local Craigslist; but unfortunately the lumber isn’t worth enough and there are better spots to camp! My expectations and desire for price appreciation blocked the rational and logical questions that needed to be asked. So, when it came to the income aspect of the IDEAL guidelines for a real estate investment, I paid no attention to it. And I paid the price for my hubris. Furthermore, this investment failed to realize the benefit of depreciation as you cannot depreciate land! So, we are zero for two so far, with the IDEAL guideline to real estate investing. All I can do is hope the land appreciates to a point where it can be sold one day. Let’s call it an expensive learning lesson. You too will have these “learning lessons”; just try to have as few of them as possible and you will be better off.

When it comes to making the most of your real estate investments, ALWAYS keep the IDEAL guideline in mind to make certain you are making a good decision and a solid investment.